Natalia Vodianova: Game, Set And Match!

It is not every day that the world’s No. 1 offers to show his skills, but supermodel and philanthropist Natalia Vodianova is a hard woman to turn down – and so, at her recent fundraiser, a chance to knock up with Rafael Nadal proved a smash hit. in an exclusive excerpt from PORTER magazine, Susie Rushton chronicles their moves

Photographed by Phil Poynter | Words Susie Rushton

There can be few more desirable fantasy tennis partners than Rafael Nadal. Not only is the world No. 1 one of the most charming players on the international circuit, but the Spaniard’s game, a swashbuckling power play of passion and flair, is one of the most thrilling to watch.

So when Natalia Vodianova, Russian supermodel and philanthropist, persuaded Nadal to offer a tennis lesson as an auction lot for her charity the Naked Heart Foundation’s fundraiser, the Love Ball, in Monaco last July, it was always going to emerge as a star prize. 

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she says. And when M.C., British comedian James Corden, kicked off the bidding, the reaction was frenzied, soon turning to humour when guests realised the identity of the man set on winning. Egged on by tablemates Bono and Princess Charlene of Monaco, was a certain Novak Djokovic – Nadal’s nemesis and currently world No. 2 – who had earlier mingled over cocktails with Karl Lagerfeld, Prince Albert of Monaco and Mario Testino. The prize, now upgraded to a game of doubles with Nadal and Djokovic, finally went to both Djokovic, for €100,000, and the Russian commissioner of the Kontinental Hockey League, Alexander Medvedev, who bid €150,000, making an impressive total of €250,000.

Cut to April this year, at a beautiful clay tennis court in the Lavazza family home in Cap d’Ail, an exclusive enclave in the south of France. Looking on are Princess Charlene, a now-heavily pregnant Vodianova with her three children and boyfriend Antoine Arnault, Pierre Casiraghi – and Djokovic, who due to a wrist injury has to stay on the sidelines, as Nadal takes to the clay with Russian No. 1 Mikhail Youzhny.

Nadal is a natural entertainer and when his Uncle Toni, umpiring the first few games, is deposed to shouts of “Favouritism!”, he grins, gesturing theatrically at the rapt crowd. Meanwhile Vodianova, whose foundation is celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year, is beaming and it is no wonder. The event is just one in a long list of her charity’s incredible achievements, which includes dozens of family support centres and services for children with learning disabilities, as well as play parks across Russia for underprivileged children. “So, it wasn’t Novak and Rafa in the end,” she smiles. “But it was still a perfect day.”

The Winner Takes All: main picture top, a money-can’t-buy tennis lesson with Rafael Nadal was the prize everyone wanted at Natalia Vodianova’s Love Ball for her Naked Heart Foundation. And it had the most unlikely of bidders … Vodianova wears a Céline jacket; Dolce & Gabbana top and Givenchy pants. Nadal wears his own kit; watch by Richard Mille. Read the full interview in Porter magazine via Lara Stone cover, below, photographed by Inez & Vinoodh. Images courtesy of the magazine.


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